There is much to love about Princess Street Gallery on Harbour Island in the Bahamas. The stunning collection of photography, drawings, paintings, books, jewelry, shells, and decorative wares beautifully captures island life. There are prints and pieces that one can slip into luggage for a reminder of this place after returning home. There are also museum level artists, such as Stephen Scott Young and Amos Ferguson, whose work is in collections around the globe.
What fascinates me most are the various ways artists from all over the world approach creating artwork influenced by Harbour Island in one way or another. There are realistic landscapes, abstractions, loosely painted figures, graphically drawn portraits, black and white photographs, traditional oil paintings, conceptual pieces, and mixed media works.
Some of the artists are Bahamian, some are not. Many live in the area which provides an intimate insider perspective; many live far away which provides fresh eyes and observations of a visitor. I find it interesting to consider how ones’ own place inevitably alters perspective and choices when creating artwork.
Visiting artists are more likely to see things as new. Whether valid or not, we get the feeling we are making a discovery and want to create artwork to share the discovery with others. We can be hyper attentive to details that are different from home…from the crisp school uniforms to the wild cemeteries to the vibrancy of the poinsana tree. I live in a land-locked state in the U.S., so the abundance of water continues to amaze me. Noticing the artwork here, I am not alone in my awe of the water. For artists who live elsewhere, there is an automatic (conscious or subconscious) comparison to other places. Perhaps this is why details here grab our attention and endlessly delight. They are different than what we are used to seeing and the prolific beauty can be stunning.
The local artists seem to capture images of community, of familiar faces, and of daily life. Their art can give us insight to life in the islands, to the people, places and things that are both exquisite as well as common.
I suspect I am oversimplifying by placing artists in two categories: local and visiting. Inevitably, my mind gravitates toward these thoughts because, for years, I have considered the role of the visitor in a community and the ethical questions that form when an “outsider” tries to document a place and people.
After talking at length about these ponderings with the manager of Princess Street Gallery, I came to more clearly understand some important guidelines for the visiting artists: be respectful, listen more than talk, don’t make assumptions, and ask permission before drawing or photographing people. (Thank you, Donna!)
I am now sifting through sketches and photos as I begin work on a new group of paintings inspired by the island and the people here. In the meantime, if you find yourself strolling the pink sands of Harbour Island, be sure to cool off at the Princess Street Gallery. You are sure to enjoy the sites – and insights the artists provide – of a very special place.
Thanks for reading!